x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

IAEA: Iran had model of nuclear warhead

Atomic watchdog set to disclose what it says are secret experiments using steel container for high-energy explosives tests.

VIENNA // The UN atomic agency plans to reveal intelligence this week suggesting Iran made computer models of a nuclear warhead and other previously undisclosed details on alleged secret work by Tehran on nuclear arms.

Other new confidential information the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plans to share with its 35 board members will include satellite imagery of what it believes is a large steel container used for nuclear arms-related high-explosives tests, diplomats recently told the Associated Press.

The IAEA has previously listed activities it said indicated possible secret nuclear weapons work by Iran, which has been under IAEA perusal for nearly a decade over suspicions that it might be interested in develop such arms.

But the newest compilation of suspected weapons-related work is significant in substance and scope.

The diplomats said they would reveal suspicions that have not been previously made public and greatly expand on alleged weapons-related experiments that have been published in previous reports on Iran's nuclear activities.

The news also came as the drumbeat of reports about possible military action against Iran's nuclear facilities intensified.

The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, said on Friday that the international community was closer to pursuing a military solution to the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme than a diplomatic one.

The comments, from a known dove, assumed added significance because they followed unsubstantiated reports that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was seeking his government's support for a strike against Tehran.

British media have separately cited unnamed British officials as saying that the UK was prepared to offer military support to any US strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

In Vienna, the diplomats - from IAEA member nations - asked for anonymity because their information was privileged. One of them said the material drawn up by the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, will be in an annex and attached to the latest of a regular series of agency reports on Iran's nuclear enrichment programme and other activities that could be used to arm nuclear missiles.

Significantly, said the diplomats, these alleged experiments took place after 2003 - the year that Iran was believed to have stopped secret work on nuclear weapons, according to a 2007 US intelligence assessment.

The annex will also say that more than 10 nations have supplied intelligence suggesting Iran is secretly developing components of a nuclear arms programme - among them an implosion-type warhead that it wants to mount on a ballistic missile.

One of the diplomats said that Iran was given a copy of the annex earlier this week, giving a chance for comment that would be included when the report is shared with board members.

While Iran initially refused to accept a copy of the report, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, yesterday said the evidence was a fabrication.

He told a news conference in Tehran that the IAEA had given in to US pressure to level accusations against Tehran.

"The Americans raised documents like this in the past: the Niger scandal", he said, in reference to claims made prior to the 2003 Iraq war, based on a forgery, that Baghdad had sought uranium from Niger.

The upcoming report is meant to ratchet up pressure on the Islamic republic to stop four years of stonewalling of IAEA experts seeking to follow up intelligence of such secret weapons-related experiments.

Iran denies such activities, asserting that they were based on intelligence fabricated by Washington.

It also denies that its uranium enrichment programme - under UN Security Council sanctions because it could manufacture fissile warhead material - was meant for anything else but making nuclear fuel.

The US and its western allies on the Security Council hope the upcoming report will be strong enough to persuade the IAEA board at its mid-November meeting to report it anew to the council.

It was the board that first referred Iran to the Security Council in 2006 - a move that led to a series of sanctions punishing Tehran for its nuclear defiance.

If that fails, they would like a board resolution setting a deadline of only a few months for Iran to start co-operating with the agency's investigation - or face the prospect of renewed Security Council referral at the next board meeting in March.